February 13, 2014, is the official release date for my 33 1/3 book on Aphex Twin's 1994 album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: voice

Music for (and by) Software Testers

A three-track podcast from Mark Rushton of Iowa City

20131202-crandic

“This is music I make to listen to while at work,” says Mark Rushton of Iowa City, Iowa, at the start of the 60th episode of his Ambient Podcast. For some two decades, Rushton has worked as a software tester, and in his off hours he is a prolific maker of electronic music. As he explains in the episode, “I create my own soundtracks.” The podcast episode is under a quarter of an hour in length and it features Rushton introducing three tracks from his most recent album, titled Machines. The pieces are all rhythmically ambiguous, including a shuddering thrum that takes its name, “Crandic,” from the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway. The third, “Hello Friends,” was recorded in front of an audience and is an example of what he describes as “live hyper-micing,” about which I’m looking forward to learning more.

The full Machines album, from which these tracks are excerpted, is at markrushton.bandcamp.com. More about Rushton’s podcast at markrushton.com. Image from flickr.com.

[ Also tagged , / / Leave a comment ]

Desiccated Folk from Tara Jane O’Neil

A teaser track from her January 2014 album

20131201-tjo

The new album from Tara Jane O’Neil (a founding member of Rodan), Where Shine New Lights, isn’t due out until late January, but its releasing label, Kranky, has posted an initial track for free download. Titled “Wordless in Woods,” it’s a gorgeous, slow-motion, desiccated-folk track. O’Neil’s voice is a solitary component amid a lulling hum, the attenuated guitar played at such a pace that the light feedback of what could be a bum cord often rivals it for presence. For RIYL context, the sense in which the tracks strives to delay each passing phrase brings to mind Earth, while its gentleness touches on Low. The closing minute, an out-of-the-blue reverie, hints at O’Neil’s greater ambition. This is an album to look forward to. Where Shine New Lights comes out January 27, 2014.

Guests on the album include Tim Barnes, Jean Cook, Corey Fogel, Anna Huff, Daniel Littleton, Elizabeth Mitchell, Ida Pearle, and Wilder Zoby. Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/kranky. More from O’Neil at tarajaneoneil.com.

[ Also tagged / / Leave a comment ]

disquiet.gizmodo.com

On Disquiet.com now participating in the Gizmodo ecosystem

These are two things that I think Geoff Manaugh, editor-in-chief of the technology and design blog Gizmodo.com, didn’t know about me when he asked if I’d consider bringing Disquiet.com beneath his website’s expanding umbrella.

1: My “to re-blog” bookmark file has been packed in recent months with scores of items from pretty much all of the Gizmodo-affiliated sites — not just Gizmodo, but io9.com, Lifehacker, Jalopnik, Gawker, and Kotaku. Probably Jezebel and Deadspin, too, but the file is too thick for me to tell.

2: Pretty much the first thing that I read every morning with my coffee — well, every weekday morning — is the “Morning Spoilers” at io9.com, the great science fiction website that is part of the Gawker network that also contains Gizmodo.

I knew Manaugh’s work from BLDGBLOG and, before that, Dwell Magazine. He’d previously invited me to involve the weekly experimental music/sound project series that I run, the Disquiet Junto, in the course on the architecture of the San Andreas Fault that he taught in spring 2013 at Columbia University’s graduate school of architecture. And I am excited to work with him again.

And so, there is now a cozy disquiet.gizmodo.com subdomain URL where I’ll be syndicating — simulposting — material from Disquiet.com, as well as doing original straight-to-Gizmodo writing. I’m hopeful that members of the Gizmodo readership might further expand the already sizable ranks of the Disquiet Junto music projects (we just completed one based on a post from Kotaku), and I’ll be posting notes from the course I teach on “sound in the media landscape” at the Academy of Art here in San Francisco.

For new readers of Disquiet, the site’s purview is as follows:

* Listening to Art.

* Playing with Audio.

* Sounding Out Technology.

* Composing in Code.

I’ll take a moment to break that down:

Listening to Art: Attention to sound art has expanded significantly this year, thanks in no small part to the exhibit Soundings: A Contemporary Score at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. That exhibit, which ran from August 10 through November 3, featured work by such key figures as Susan Philipsz (whose winning of the Turner Prize inspired an early music compilation I put together), Carsten Nicolai (whom I profiled in the new Red Bull Music Academy book For the Record), and Stephen Vitiello (whom I’ve interviewed about 911 and architectural acoustics, and who has participated in the Disquiet Junto). But if “sound art” is art for which music is both raw material and subject matter, my attention is just as much focused on what might better be described as the role of “sound in art,” of the depictions of audio in various media (the sound effects in manga, for example) and the unintended sonic components of art beyond sound art, like the click and hum of a slide carousel or the overall sonic environment of a museum. Here’s video of Tristan Perich’s “Microtonal Wall” from the MoMA exhibit:

/

Playing with Audio: If everything is, indeed, a remix, that is a case most clearly made in music and experimental sound. From the field recordings that infuse much ambient music to the sampling of hip-hop to the rapturous creative reuse that proliferates on YouTube and elsewhere, music as raw material is one of the most exciting developments of our time. Terms like “remix” and “mashup” and “mixtape” can been seen to have originated or otherwise gained cachet in music, and as they expand into other media, we learn more about them, about the role such activities play in culture. And through the rise of audio-game apps, especially in iOS, such “playing with sound” has become all the more common — not just the work of musicians but of audiences, creating a kind of “active listening.” This notion of reuse, of learning about music and sound by how it is employed after the fact, plays a big role in my forthcoming book for the 33 1/3 series. My book is about Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, and it will be published on February 13, 2014, just weeks ahead of the record’s 20th anniversary. As part of my research for the book, I spoke with many individuals who had come to appreciate the Aphex Twin album by engaging with it in their own work, from composers who had transcribed it for more “traditional” instruments (such as chamber ensembles and solo guitar), to choreographers and sound designers, to film directors.

Sounding Out Technology: A briefer version of the Disquiet.com approach is to look at “the intersection of sound, art, and technology.” The term “technology” is essential to that trio, because it was only when I learned to step back from my fascination with electronically produced music and to appreciate “electronic” as a subset of the vastly longer continuum of “technology” that connections became more clear to me — say, between the sonics of raves and the nascent polyphony of early church music, or between creative audio apps like Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers’ Bloom and what is arguably the generative ur-instrument: the aeolian harp. With both Bloom and the aeolian harp, along with its close relative the wind chime, music is less a fixed composition than a system that is enacted. As technology mediates our lives more and more, the role that sound plays in daily life becomes a richer and richer subject — from voice-enabled devices, to the sounds of consumer product design, to the scores created for electric cars:

Composing in Code: Of all the technologies to come to the fore in the past two decades, perhaps none has had an impact greater than computer code. This is no less true in music and sound than it is in publishing, film, politics, health, or myriad other fields. While the connections between mathematics and music have been celebrated for millennia, there is something special to how, now, those fields are combining, notably in graphic systems such as Max/MSP (and Max for Live, in Ableton) and Puredata (aka Pd), just to name two circumstances. Here, for reference, is a live video of the Dutch musician and sound artist Edo Paulus’ computer screen as he constructs and then performs a patch in Max/MSP. Where the construction ends and the performance begins provides a delightful koan:

All of which said, I’m not 100-percent clear what form my disquiet.gizmodo.com activity will take. I’m looking forward to experimenting in the space. I’ll certainly be co-posting material from Disquiet.com, but I’m also planning on engaging with Gizmodo itself, and with its broader network of sites. I’ve already, in advance of this post, begun re-blogging material from Gizmodo and from Gizmodo-affiliated sites: not just “sharing” (in the UI terminology of the Kinja CMS that powers the network) but adding some contextual information, thoughts, tangents, details. I’m enthusiastic about Kinja, in particular how it blurs the lines between author and reader. I like that a reply I make to a post about a newly recreated instrument by Leonardo Da Vinci can then appear in my own feed, leading readers back to the original site, where they themselves might join in the conversation. Kinja seems uniquely focused on multimedia as a form of commentary — like many CMS systems, it allows animated GIFs and short videos to serve as blog comments unto themselves, but it goes the step further of allowing users to delineate rectangular sub-sections of previously posted images and comment on those. I’m intrigued to see how sound can fit into that approach. (It’s no surprise to me that Kinja is innovative in this regard — it’s on Lifehacker that I first learned about the syntax known as “markdown.”) I think that all, cumulatively, makes for a fascinating media apparatus, and I want to explore it.

While I typed this post, it was Tuesday in San Francisco. I live in the Outer Richmond District, just north of Golden Gate Park and a little over a mile from the Pacific Ocean. The season’s first torrential rain has passed, and so the city sounds considerably more quiet than it did just a few days ago. No longer is the noise of passing automobiles amplified and augmented by the rush of water, and the roof above my desk is no longer being pummeled. But where there is the seeming peace of this relative quiet, there is also an increased diversity of listening material. The ear can hear further, as it were — not just to conversations in the street and to passing cars, but to construction blocks away, to leaf blowers, to a seaplane overhead, to the sound of a truck backing up at some considerable distance, and to the many birds that (unlike what I was accustomed to, growing up on the north shore of New York’s Long Island) do not all vacate the area come winter. It is shortly past noon as I hit the button to make this post go live. Church bells have sung a duet with the gurgling in my belly to remind me it is time for lunch. And because it is Tuesday, the city’s civic warning system has rung out. 

Dim sum, anyone?

[ Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , / / Leave a comment ]

Disquiet Junto Project 0098: Woven Audiobiography

The Project: Combine original three spoken texts into one track.

Note: The due date was incorrect when this was first posted. The due date is Monday, November 18, 2013, at 11:59pm (wherever you are).

20131114-rq

Each Thursday at the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud.com a new compositional challenge is set before the group’s members, who then have just over four days to upload a track in response to the assignment. Membership in the Junto is open: just join and participate.

This assignment was made in the afternoon, California time, on Thursday, November 14, with 11:59pm on the following Monday, November 18, 2013, as the deadline.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto):

Disquiet Junto Project 0098: Woven Audiobiography

The steps for this week’s project are as follows:

Step A: Choose a number from 1 through 6. You can roll a die or use an online number generator, or come to a decision on your own.

Step B: Write a 100-word text beginning with one of the following phrases, depending on the number you selected. Where there are brackets fill them in with the appropriate information.

  1. “I was born in [ ] and I like …”

  2. “My name is [ ] and I was thinking …”

  3. “This morning I had a sense that …”

  4. “Try as I might, the same thing …”

  5. “The last book I read was [] and …”

  6. “On a Sunday morning I usually …”

Step C: Write a 90-word text beginning with the same phrase.

Step D: Write an 80-word text beginning with the same phrase.

Step E: Record yourself reading the three texts as three separate tracks. Record each at the same pace. Speak slowly and take an extended pause after any period.

Step F: Layer the three tracks into one track. They should all begin at the same point and the first few words should, more or less, overlap to the point of being indistinguishable.

Step G: Take a couple passed through audio, lightly balancing relative volume levels to emphasize key phrases or, for that matter, to enhance the low-key cacophony.

Step H: If you desire to, weave in one tonal element, though not so loud as to overpower the speaking.

Deadline: Monday, November 18, 2013, at 11:59pm wherever you are.

Length: Your track’s length will be determined by the longest of your three recordings.

Information: Please when posting your track on SoundCloud, include a description of your process in planning, composing, and recording it. This description is an essential element of the communicative process inherent in the Disquiet Junto.

Title/Tag: Include the term “disquiet0098-wovenaudiobio” in the title of your track, and as a tag for your track.

Download: Please consider employing a license that allows for attributed, commerce-free remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution).

Linking: When posting the track, be sure to include this information:

More on this 98th Disquiet Junto project, in which three original spoken texts are combined into one track, at:

http://disquiet.com/2013/11/14/disquiet0098-wovenaudiobio/

More details on the Disquiet Junto at:

http://soundcloud.com/groups/disquiet-junto/

Background: This week’s project originated as part of the Oulipo Sound Workshop that was included in the Subtle Channels series of events held in San Francisco earlier this month (November 2013). The three-hour workshop provided an opportunity to explore the role that Oulipo literary constraints play in the restricted rules of the weekly Disquiet Junto projects. There were four projects that day, including a listening exercise, a word-based one based similar to last week’s Junto project, and a subtractive one along the lines of the 7th Disquiet Junto project from back in February 2012. The fourth was a simpler version of this week’s Junto.

Above image, from Raymond Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes, found via the stellar goto80.com.

[ Also tagged , / / Comments: 2 ]

Student Work: Yoga Breathing

Four tracks from my sound course

The work shared below is a segment of a project by a student, Karina Saroyan, enrolled in the course I teach at the Academy of Art here in San Francisco. The course is about the role of sound in the media landscape. Saroyan’s four audio tracks were part of an in-class presentation she gave this past Wednesday. Each of the course’s students (there are a dozen or so) give a short, ten-minute presentation at some point during the semester. The presentations don’t begin until several weeks in, at least until we’ve gotten the initial three class sessions done — those are focused on learning to listen, in part through exercises and in part through reflections on history, media, commerce, physiology and other useful perspectives.

The in-class student presentations are research projects, but the instruction is to focus the research on something that is already important to the student: i.e., don’t go researching the physiology of the human ear if you’re not already a biology nut; instead, pay attention to the sounds in your hobby (painting), or favorite sport (tennis), or place of employment (there was a great presentation several semesters back about the cosmetics counter). Saroyan focused her presentation on yoga, in particular on the breathing, and as part of the project she uploaded these four audio tracks of her performing key breathing practices: ujjahi, alternate nostril, lion’s breath, and skull shining breath:

As someone who has practiced yoga on and off for close to two decades, and who recently has begun exploring tai chi, I was reminded in Saroyan’s work that for all the physicality of breathing, there is a specifically sonic aspect by which one can gauge one’s form. It was also a useful reminder than not all vocal sounds are verbal — that, in fact, some aren’t even produced in the same manner we generally associate with vocal sounds.

[ Also tagged , / / Comment: 1 ]